Friday, 24 May, 2002
Good morning.  Are you going away for Memorial Day Weekend?  If you are, you're statistically slightly more likely to be driving than flying this year - but however you travel, I hope your journeys are pleasant and uneventful, and your weekend relaxing and pleasant.

This Week's Column :  Security Silliness :  The good news?  The government would rather shoot down planes with terrorists on board than let the pilots defend them!  The bad news?  Don't worry about your fellow passengers - while flying, there's a much greater danger beneath your feet!

If your travels take you to Europe, try and avoid Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris - rated by the Association of European Airlines as the worst airport in Europe for delays.  Surprisingly (to me) Heathrow scores as second worst - my own Heathrow experiences are almost always positive of the 'on time or early' nature!  And, talking of Heathrow, the cost of traveling from the airport in to London is about to increase if you travel by car or taxi, with a 5 traffic congestion fee being levied on all vehicles in and out of the airport.  Take the wonderful (but expensive) fast train to/from Paddington Station instead!

There have been some massive system wide delays to air travel within British airspace recently, caused by transition to a new Air Traffic Control system that started operation in January, six years later than scheduled!  Two weeks ago half of the workstations at the new 623 million center in Swanwick suddenly stopped working.  And now it is claimed that air traffic controllers have misread heights of planes and sent aircraft into wrong airspace sectors.

Controllers have mistaken Glasgow for Cardiff, and misread altitudes by as much as 6000 ft because they have difficulty reading the screens on the new computers, says Computer Weekly magazine.  The mistakes are detailed in a confidential report filed by controllers and their supervisors which the publication claims to have seen.  It says that National Air Traffic Services and the Civil Aviation Authority claim only a small number of controllers have had difficulties reading screens and that 'the issue is not safety-related'.  Umm.  Not safety related???  Anyone care to rethink that!

In a classic bit of good news/bad news airline doublespeak, the good news is that Continental Airlines plans to upgrade its trans-Atlantic coach class meal service.  And now for the bad news.  No more free alcoholic drinks.  Alcoholic beverages will now be sold for $4 per drink.  Continental claims that all the money it will make from selling drinks will be reinvested in the improved food service.  I typically have two drinks on a trans-Atlantic flight, and I sure know that there is no way that Continental is going to spend an extra $8 on the food it would serve me - indeed, I'll guess that the cost of the food upgrade is no more than $2 per person per flight.

And now for the classic airline doublespeak - Eric Kleiman, Continental's Director of Product Marketing, proudly claims 'This reallocation of our investment in our inflight product benefits every customer, rather than the few who enjoy complimentary liquor'.  Unfortunately, for anyone that now chooses to buy two alcoholic drinks, and probably even those that buy even one, Mr Kleiman is just plain wrong - they are worse off than before.  And, while he refers to 'the few' who enjoy complimentary liquor, from what I see, the largest part of the adult passengers on most trans-Atlantic flights choose to accept a free drink when it is offered to them!

There's been a lot of talk during the last week about when the government was first warned of the potential for planes to be hijacked by terrorists and used as flying bombs.  You may recall that this was initially described as 'unthinkable' - but only by the unthinking and the illiterate, because several works of popular fiction (including a Tom Clancy best-seller) featured exactly that concept over the last five or so years.  This article seems to provide details of the earliest dated official warning attempt - 1993!

A couple of weeks ago I reported on a lawsuit in Seattle brought by flight attendants, claiming that contaminants in the cabin air caused them severe health problems.  Verdict now in - they lost.  But last year Alaska Airlines settled privately with the claimants for $750,000, while 'not admitting any liability'.

This Week's Security Horror StoryWon by this excellent article headed 'Don't Get Mad, Get Airborne'.  It talks about the draconian powers that security personnel have at airports, and how they can be abused while leaving us, the traveling public, with almost no recourse to appeal the arbitrary decisions of front line security personnel.  Thanks to reader David from Seattle for first passing this item on.

Meanwhile, the 'Deja Vu' security award goes to the security people in Concourse D at Fort Lauderdale's airport.  They - ooops - discovered that somehow the metal detector had become unplugged without anyone noticing.  Federal security spokeswoman Deirdre O'Sullivan said it is not yet known how many passengers passed through the detector, how long it had been unplugged or who discovered the problem.  Hmmm - makes you kind of wonder exactly what Deirdre does know, if they don't even know who discovered the problem???  Needless to say, a lot of passengers were inconvenienced during the 'evacuate, search, secure, rescreen' process that inevitably followed.

And the 'not exactly qualified to be a rocket scientist, but clever enough to be a security screener' award goes to an unnamed security screener who was searching through the purse of a uniformed American Airlines pilot.  The screener explained that he was looking for weapons that would allow the lady pilot to force her way into the cockpit.  The pilot explained that she wouldn't need a weapon, because she would be flying the plane!  This story was told by Don Carty, CEO of American Airlines, at the annual Airport Executives meeting last week.

Lastly on the security front, some good news.  The TSA have recruited a Disney expert to provide advice on how to shorten the lines in airports.  Concepts are already being tested at Baltimore, where a 40% increase in passengers through the screening lines has already occurred.

And now, recognizing that many of us are driving somewhere this weekend, here's a bit of road safety trivia for you.  Hagerty Classic Insurance's list of 'Top Ten Snacks that Cause Car Crashes'.

1.   Coffee
2.   Hot soup
3.   Tacos
4.   Spicyhotfood
5.   Hamburgers
6.   Barbecued snacks
7.   Fried chicken
8.   Jelly doughnuts
9.   Soft drinks
10. Chocolate
 

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels - and remember, if you're driving anywhere this weekend, that over 11,000 law enforcement agencies from all 50 states are coordinating a semi-annual crackdown on speeding this weekend (does that make you feel safer?).

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

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